“The DepEd noodles issue was a high profile case that dates back to 2009 during the Arroyo administration.”
by Ducky Paredes
Accusations that the President called for the impeachment of the Chief Justice so he can have total control of the country’s judicial system fly in the face of a recent decision of the Office of the Ombudsman that dismissed charges of misconduct and violation of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act against the former Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) who was an appointee of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Remember that the Ombudsman, in Gloria’s time, was handpicked by husband Mike from among his law classmates. Merceditas Gutierrez resigned rather than face impeachment after the election of Noynoy Aquino. The decision, clearing the DepEd Secretary was handed down March 6 by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who was appointed to the post by President Aquino earlier this year to replace resigned Ombdusman Merceditas Gutierrez. (Ombudsman Carpio-Morales was a Gloria appointee to the SC.)
A five-man Special Panel created by Former Ombudsman Gutierrez to investigate the charges recommended last December the dismissal of the case against the former Secretary and five other officials of the DepEd. This was submitted to Morales for review, and she upheld the findings and recommendation of the panel, after a thorough review.
The DepEd noodles issue was a high profile case that dates back to 2009 during the Arroyo administration. The charges were filed by officials of Kolonwel Trading, a company that lost in the 2007 bidding for the supply of instant noodles fortified with fresh eggs, and a similar bidding in 2009 for the supply of instant noodles fortified with fresh eggs and malunggay, in connection with the DepEd’s feeding project to mitigate malnutrition among children in public schools.
Among other accusations, the complainants say that the procured noodles were overpriced and did not comply with specified nutritional content, that the biddings were rigged and were tailored to specifically benefit Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation. Another accusation was that winning bidder Jeverps did not have a license to operate from the Bureau of Foods and Drugs.
A careful reading of the decision shows that the Special Panel conducted a fair and diligent investigation of the complaints, giving both the complainants and the respondents all the opportunities to present their side of the case. Consequently, the Ombudsman released a decision based on what clearly are the merits of arguments propounded by the contending parties.
In its findings on the first set of complaints for instance, the Special Panel established that there was no overpricing in the acquisition of the noodles, that these contained the required ingredients of fresh eggs, with added malunggay in both the first and second procurements.
On the charge that the biddings were rigged, the Special Panel found that seven bidders actually participated in the first bidding, including Kolonwel Trading which bought bid documents but later discontinued its bid for unknown reasons. Most of the other bidders backed out because of the additional cost of delivering the goods direct to end-users in drop-off points that included specified school districts in Luzon and in some remote areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.
One of those which withdrew was Universal Robina Corporation that, in its letter of withdrawal, told DepEd that “we are not capable of meeting your drop-off point requirements.”
Winning bidder Jeverps was also able to prove that it had a valid license to operate as shown by a certification issued by Director Leticia Gutierrez of the Bureau of Food and Drugs. Findings showed that the company passed the quality check and was post-qualified for the procurement in 2007 and 2009.
Furthermore, it was also established that the noodles contained the specified nutritional contents, and that a review conducted by the DepEd Undersecretary Ramon C, Bacani found the price reasonable.
The Special Panel also established that the bidding process was in conformity with what is required under the law, the bids having been published not only in newspapers but also posted in the Electronic Procurement System (EPS) of the government. The bid documents were opened in public, in the presence a representative of the Commission on Audit (COA) and other observers.
On the second set of complaints, the Special Panel, in effect, sustained the arguments of the respondents.
Among other things, the respondents stated that it was the end user, the School Health and Nutrition Center, and not the DepEd’s Bids and Awards Committee, which set the Terms of Reference as well as the approved budget for the contract. Contrary to accusations, it was also shown that the winning bidder was not the only participating supplier, as proven by the Bidders’ Information Sheet for 2006, 2007 and 2009 and the Bidders’ Attendance Sheet of February 12, 2009.
Over and above the justifications and arguments raised by the respondents, there is need to emphasize the findings of the Ombudsman, an appointee of President Benigno Aquino III, that “Other than his bare allegation, the complainant has not prima facie shown any undue injury caused to the Government or any private party, or unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference given to any private party.”
It also observed that since he did not even submit any actual canvass sheet and/or price quotations from identified suppliers as a valid basis for comparing the prices paid to the winning bidder, “the complainant’s allegation of overpricing deserves scant consideration.”
The accusations of bid rigging and award of the project to a favored supplier is negated by several undisputed measures taken by the respondents.
Again, these included the publication of the bids in a newspaper of general circulation, the expression of interest by several prospective bidders which actually bought bid documents, the holding of pre-bid conferences to clarify and explain the terms, requirements and conditions, the eligibility checks for the participating bidders that either failed these or voluntarily withdrew their bids.
As the decision repeatedly stated, the contract for the supply of noodles “was not prima facie shown to be manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”
It bears stressing here that the dismissal of these charges against a former top official of the past administration — and five other executives and employees of the DepEd – only serves to underscore the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman and, by extension, the continued independence of the Supreme Court, as mandated by our Constitution.
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It is unfortunate that, in this country, we use not only nicknames but also pet names more appropriate to children even when they have become grandparents and granduncles themselves. Thus, we have “Lolo Baby” and “Lola Baby” and grown men named “Boy” or “Boying” who have great achievements as well as others who have committed grand crimes.
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hvp 03.27.12Readers who missed a column can access www.duckyparedes.com/blogs. This is updated daily. Your reactions are welcome at email@example.com